USL PRO closed the book on its unprecedented offseason on Wednesday, turning the page toward the 2015 season by unveiling its new competition format.
The league’s 24 clubs will be divided into Eastern and Western Conferences, with each conference holding 12 teams. Each team will play 28 regular season games, facing each of their conference opponents at least twice during the regular season. The additional six games on each team’s schedule will be matchups against geographic rivals, allowing for several cross-conference contests throughout the year.
“Transitioning to a conference-based structure is consistent with our long-term growth strategy and enabled by the rapid expansion of the league,” USL PRO executive vice president Jake Edwards said in a release. “This new format will promote regional rivalries, allowing fans greater opportunity to support their clubs home and away as the league continues to bring its brand of professional soccer to enthusiastic markets throughout the US and Canada."
The top six teams from each conference will qualify for the USL PRO postseason. The top two seeds from each conference will receive first round byes, with the third seed facing the sixth seed and the fourth seed taking on the fifth seed in the opening round.
USL PRO has grown rapidly over the last few months, with 12 new clubs – seven of which are owned and operated by MLS teams – set to join the league in 2015. In all, MLS clubs own and operate eight of USL PRO’s 24 teams, with 11 of the other 12 MLS clubs affiliating with an independent USL PRO side.
In 2014, 101 MLS players spent time in various USL PRO sides, logging over 67,000 minutes of playing time. Richie Marquez, a 2014 SuperDraft pick by the Philadelphia Union, led the way with 2520 total minutes for the Harrisburg City Islanders, while LA Galaxy Homegrown right back Oscar Sorto -- currently in US national team camp -- was second among all MLS players with over 1800 minutes for LA Galaxy II.
MLS clubs will be able to loan players back and forth from their senior roster to their USL PRO club/affiliate throughout the year.
USL PRO will announce its full 2015 schedule later this month.
2015 USL PRO Alignment
Charleston Battery (Affiliated with Houston Dynamo)
Charlotte Independence (Affiliated with Colorado Rapids)
FC Montreal (Owned and operated by Montreal Impact)
Harrisburg City Islanders (Affiliated with Philadelphia Union)
Louisville City FC (Affiliated with Orlando City SC)
*New York Red Bulls (Owned and operated by New York Red Bulls)
Richmond Kickers (Affiliated with D.C. United)
Rochester Rhinos (Affiliated with New England Revolution)
Saint Louis FC (Affiliated with Chicago Fire)
Toronto FC II (Owned and operated by Toronto FC)
Wilmington Hammerheads FC (Affiliated with New York City FC)
Arizona United SC
Austin Aztex (Affiliated with Columbus Crew SC)
Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
LA Galaxy II (Owned and operated by LA Galaxy)
OKC Energy FC (Affiliated with Sporting Kansas City)
Orange County Blues FC
Portland Timbers 2 (Owned and operated by Portland Timbers)
Real Monarchs SLC (Owned and operated by Real Salt Lake)
Sacramento Republic FC (Affiliated with San Jose Earthquakes)
Seattle Sounders FC 2 (Owned and operated by Seattle Sounders)
Tulsa Roughnecks FC
Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 (Owned and operated by Vancouver Whitecaps)